Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
canada, trademark, unions


Wal-Mart Abusing Trademark Law To Try To Shut Down Union Website

from the not-a-fan-of-free-speech-apparently dept

Over the years, we've seen a ton of lawsuits against so-called "gripes" sites: people who set up a site because they feel wronged by a company. Company lawyers will often try to bully such sites, and claim that they're a trademark violations, especially when they use a name like The big companies almost always lose such lawsuits. That's because those sites are obviously not from the company itself and don't cause any sort of consumer "confusion" over who runs the sites. Earlier this year, we heard that lawyers were finally starting to recognize that suing gripes sites was not a good idea. First, you would almost certainly lose. But more importantly, you'd end up drawing a lot more attention to the gripes sites. However, it certainly looks like there are a bunch of folks who have not gotten the message. Soon after that article, we saw Goldman Sachs go after a gripes site, and the same story played out again. Lots more attention to the gripes site, and the all-powerful Goldman Sachs eventually forced to back down.

And yet, it keeps happening.

The latest such story takes place up in Canada, and rather than a traditional disgruntled customer or ex-employee, the gripes site in question is from a union.Michael Scott points us to the news that Wal-Mart is trying to shut down a union website using quite a creative interpretation of trademark law, to suggest it blocks out all sorts of stuff it does not:
They want the court to order the union:
  • to refrain from using the names Wal-Mart or Walmart as a trademark alone, or with other indicia, in any form or format
  • not to use the expressions "Walmart Workers Canada" or "Union for Walmart Workers" in any form or format
  • not to use the expression "Get respect. Live better." or any other expression which constitutes a play on Wal-Mart's trademarked slogan "Save money. Live better"
  • not to use photos or images of WalMart employees or people purporting to be such employees
  • not to use an oval, circular or semi-circular design similar to the Spark Design that includes spokes or figures in association with trademark Walmart in any form or format
  • to take down the website
Pretty much all of those requests seem like very questionable attempts to censor and silence organizing workers, rather than any legitimate attempt to protect trademarks against confusing use in commerce. And, of course, in doing so, all Wal-Mart is doing is drawing a lot more attention to these union claims... and to the fact that Wal-Mart appears to be acting like a big bully.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2009 @ 11:01am

    Re: Re:

    "Come up here to PA, they all do. You know what's required to get them? Healthy work ethic. You show them that you're willing to work, they will give you the rewards."

    Ok, I don't live in PA, so I can only speak to my personal experiences and the reading I've done, but I just can't believe that's true. It's likely a lot more simple: they pay those wages and benefits in those areas because they HAVE to. No large business in which the employees are anonymous pays higher wages or benefits to reward ALL of its employees. Think about it, how would that work if suddenly ALL the employees decided to show a great work ethic? Would they all get those rewards? I just can't believe they would.

    "You cause the stores to go bankrupt. You are the one not paying more for less. Those small companies were going away anyways. If the only competitive edge they have is price, they will fail, and they did before Walmart."

    But the only competitive edge ISN'T price, it's paid government advocates, and that is simply wrong. Local businesses should have to compete on locally even ground. The goal CAN'T be to provide the best customer experience, it HAS to be a combination of the best customer and the best employee experience, otherwise you have a failure on the local level when it comes to these big box companies. There are examples of those that do it right: Home Depot circa late 90's, for example.

    "There douse not need to be a union."

    Unions suck, but ridiculously sized businesses with paid politicians suck more. I'll take the union over corporatocracy any day of the week.

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